Living Together/Violence and Love:
Some Personal Reflections
It’s hard to get our bearings amidst all the changes that this virus has brought to our daily lives – we are all threatened by a reality that can cause serious sickness and/or death. And now we have the brutal murder of George Floyd – which has brought the issues of violence vs protection, equality vs prejudice, love vs hate to the fore. His murder, while the work of unchecked police power, is basically the product of a cultural mindset – which I believe we are just beginning to come to terms with. A mindset that has made us more comfortable, many times, with violence rather than love.
What does love mean in this context? Most basically what love means, I believe, is that I will another person good things – good health, good experiences, good hopes, good opportunities. Of course love has many other meanings as well – but it seems to me that willing another person well is the most basic and the most necessary in a civilized society. When our Constitution speaks of all persons being created equal – it seems to me that basically that means wishing all individuals the same good options. That is the expression of love in a complex society – that is the goal of any civilized experience. That is the love, I believe, that Gov. Cuomo keeps mentioning when he speaks about the ideals that New York State should embody.
It is clear that prejudice, if we think about it, is the child of ignorance and fear and many times of greed and ambition as well. All human reactions, of course. Prejudice, like our individual languages, is basically given to us by the larger society we live in and it issues in racism, among other reactions. We are given the seeds of prejudice in hundreds of little ways: from what we hear from others, from what we see in movies or on TV, from what our teachers frequently fail to say, and sometimes, from the very preachers who are speaking of God’s love. We are told the thoughts that are correct, the people or the group that are our friends and the others – who are outside our circle – the people who are different. The possible dangers we must avoid – and on and on. We know our basic language skills by six, we have been taught the basics of prejudice by then as well.
No wonder we need mass demonstrations – once again. No wonder we have to be shocked out of our unrecognized prejudicial assumptions. And no wonder it is the Black community that is leading the call. Education is an ongoing experience. How else do we learn that others – be they black/white, Latino or Asian, accomplished or not, gay or straight, Jew, Christian, Muslim or non-believer are all just our fellow humans? Prejudice defines us by differences more than who we are. Martin Luther King eloquently reminded us of that; his dream of equality has to be everyone’s dream as well. If we do not give others the love that fuels a productive and happy society, we are only living half a life, enclosed in unrecognized ignorance, fear and isolation. A full life is not a gift; it is a goal and an individual accomplishment.
If we turn away and don’t think about what we might doing to others, many times by not doing, we are living half alive. These demonstrations will help us in our task of changing the status quo. I am saying the obvious if I say without everyone’s freedom – no one is free. Freedom is a most basic goal of love.
The massive demonstrations are not just a call to reign in police power, i.e., to respect life but basically to change our beliefs, our values and our assumptions. They are a call to see and recognize our blind spots, to see what is before our eyes. On the deepest level of what it means to be human, notwithstanding our surface/cultural differences, we are all alike. Without making such an effort we will live our lives facing a mirror, we will be alone at our deepest level. We will have shrunk our human consciousness and lost something profoundly basic to what it means to be alive.